Spence calls for unity, activism to achieve budget priorities, union longevity
By DEBORAH A. MILES
PEF President Wayne Spence credited member activism for past legislative wins and urged all members to get or stay involved as the NYS 2018-2019 Executive Budget poses concerns and challenges for the union.
“Part of this budget reinforces that we must always remain vigilant in advocating for the continuity of employment for our members and to protect the services they provide to New Yorkers,” Spence said. “I ask all PEF members to become involved so our budget fight-back strategies have the strength to ensure our budget priorities are achieved.”
One is the continued erosion of the Civil Service system and the privatization of positions that have been previously held by PEF members. This is particularly apparent at the state Office of Information Technology Services where a proposal calls for 300 “special expertise” term appointments to be filled by contractors, ignoring the Civil Service process and preventing promotional opportunities for PEF members.
Another issue PEF opposes is the state’s expansion of the design-build program. Spence testified in detail about this program at a recent Workforce Development Hearing (See related story page 11). In this budget cycle, the proposal would add five agencies and authorities to the eligible list for design-build projects.
The proposal keeps the current $10 million minimum cost threshold, but that amount does not apply to all of the new agencies. It adds buildings and other structures under the design-build program, not just roads and bridges. This would dramatically increase the number of projects that can be designed, built and inspected by a single contractor. Spence said state employees are needed to assess the quality of work, as their interest is public safety, not profit.
The Executive Budget also targets the three SUNY hospitals by removing $78.6 million in aid subsidy and replacing it with capital bonding authority as part of SUNY’s budget. This would critically underfund public hospitals that are already in need of more funding.
“Our public teaching hospitals need money, not bonding authority, to provide necessary health care to the clients they serve, and to maintain proper staffing levels,” Spence said. “No one wins when a patient dies due to lack of staff.”
The budget touches on health care in other ways, specifically individuals with mental illness. A proposal allows locally operated jail and state prisons to house and treat mentally ill individuals until they are considered competent.
PEF leaders and members who work at state Office of Mental Health facilities are adamant that individuals suffering with conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia need the care and services found in dedicated hospitals or state-operated facilities, and not behind bars.
Another Executive Budget proposal thwarts state law by providing a 30-day notice to close the Ella McQueen Reception Center for Boys and Girls in Brooklyn, instead of the 12 months notice as required by current law.
“This reception center houses and evaluates children for two weeks before placing them in a state Office of Children and Family Services facility. An early closure would not only be a disservice to the young clients, but another attempt to privatize the work of professional PEF staff,” Spence said.
The last issue involves the capping of the Medicare Part B reimbursement at $134 per month, unless it is negotiated in future state budgets. It would also end income-related monthly adjustment amounts (IRMAA) reimbursements, costing some retirees up to $3,535 per year. It would significantly diminish health care benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees enrolled in the New York State Health Insurance Program.
What’s being done
Spence said meetings are being held throughout the state giving local PEF leaders and their members an opportunity to talk with legislators about these and other workforce issues.
“We have until April 1, 2018, before the budget is passed. Now is the time to visit, call or email your local legislators. Letters are prepared on the PEF website so everyone can have a voice, with just one click.
“As president of this union, it is my job to make sure we step up our conversations about PEF’s priorities. We need member involvement so we can meet the challenges presented in the Executive Budget. But our efforts to engage members is not about just one thing. We must work together as we face new uncertainty about the future of the labor movement in our nation.”
“I urge all members to stay informed. The life of our union is in all our hands.”